Korea: A church at a crossroads?

The church in Korea has seen numbers soar in the last few decades, but it now seems to be on a downward trend. Could new Gospel resources make a difference? Our CEO Ian Roberts reports from his trip to launch Life Explored.

'I just find Korea such a fascinating place.'

The flight from Heathrow to Incheon was full. So instead of stretching out over a row of empty seats, I found myself engrossed in a conversation with my neighbour - a Franco-Mexican freelance photographer planning to spend the next 12 months in Korea, having fallen in love with the country on previous visits.

Seven days later as we soared over the mudflats of the Yellow Sea on the return journey, I had the first opportunity to reflect on the truth of her words.

Making up for lost time

Given the prominence of the church in Korea, it was a surprise that it took until 2015 before interest was expressed in translating Christianity Explored. But the Koreans have made up for lost time.

In 2016 Christianity Explored was released. In 2017 they became the third country to officially publish Life Explored. And in 2018 they were the first to produce the new Discipleship Explored in translation.

What is the reason for the urgency of demand? In the eyes of our incredibly hospitable hosts, Yongshin, Kangeun and Daeman, Korea needs tried and tested Gospel resources. 

Yongshin has established Christ Exalted Ministries International with the intention of putting high-quality Biblical resources in the hands of the local church. Working in partnership with IVP Korea, he managed to deliver both Christianity Explored and Life Explored in the space of 13 months.

Concerns for the future

The extraordinary growth of the church has slowed in recent years and now appears to be on a downward trend. Successive people we spoke to, ranging from pastors to teachers to journalists, confirmed that opinion. 

One of Yongshin's key concerns is the disillusionment of the younger generation. For the church in Korea to stabilise he says it's crucial that young people are reached -  
"They had seen true faith in Christ in a way that was different from anything they had previously experienced."

So as well as doing the main launch and visiting churches, our programme also took in a visit to the local Army barracks (a period of service is mandatory for young men) and a couple of Christian schools.

The conversation which had the deepest impact on me was with two teenagers on one of these visits. They told me of the huge influence of their Christian teachers. In them, they had seen true faith in Christ in a way that was different from anything they had previously experienced.

A truly fascinating place

My photographer friend was right. Korea is a fascinating place.

We left with an impression of a recently developed economic powerhouse struggling to cope with the accompanying human pressures, and a similar picture of a church that has experienced a meteoric rise it is now struggling to sustain. 

But we also left feeling hopeful, having met people like Yongshin whose lives have been genuinely transformed by the Gospel and who are passionate about sharing Jesus with their fellow countrymen. 

If the use of our resources in Korea can play a part in this ministry we would be thrilled.

Korean Translations